A start-up pioneering the use of radar to detect concealed weapons and bombs aims to have a product ready for market within a year.
Cambridge Sensoriis develops portable, lightweight radar systems that can screen travelers as they move through transport hubs.
The FORSAW system – Free-flow and Rapid Standoff security-screening for All Weapons – uses the same radar technology the company developed to help navigate drones and autonomous vehicles.
The company has received a £50,000 grant from government research and innovation agency Innovate UK to advance counter-terrorism radar technology. Initially, the company is focusing on its use at railway stations in India, where thousands of people can pass through terminals in minutes.
But it could be used in many areas with large numbers of people, such as stadiums and arenas, places of worship, hotels and conference centers, and could help combat the horror of shootings in schools in the United States.
Steve Clark, CEO of Cambridge Sensoriis, told the Cambridge Independent: “There were bombings in Mumbai in 2008, with terrorists raiding one of the train stations with machine guns. Our technology would have detected them long before they arrived at the station.
The system would be installed above entrances, scanning those approaching a site, unlike metal detection units.
“The problem with current technology is that it creates queues of people waiting to be scanned, which themselves create a target, and they are also in the station at the time, so it is too late. You want to catch that before they get to the site,” Steve explained.
There have been previous efforts to use radar to detect concealed weapons and bombs, but the technology has proven to be too large, complex, or expensive to use.
The small Cambridge Sensoriis system was developed for the navigation of drones and autonomous vehicles, but is able to solve these challenges, as it can detect threats from 50 meters away and screen hundreds of passengers every minute.
“We were part of the second phase of the UKRI Future of Flight program and were part of a consortium that included the Satellite Application Catapult and Malloy Aeronautics,” Steve explained.
“We ran trials of our radars on their drones to detect and avoid in flight. Being part of the Future of Flight ecosystem was great as we also met many other UK SMEs and large companies. We need to talk to the CAA and the regulators. We’ve done flight testing and that program is complete. We have been shortlisted for several phase three projects.
“We wanted to research other markets where our underlying ability to design radars and process data could be applied. There was work to be done to improve the efficiency of railway stations in India and make them more pleasant places without such long queues. An Innovate UK grant of £50,000 helped Cambridge Sensoriis – which has just moved from Cambourne Business Park to Bourn – to carry out the feasibility study and outline design for the works in India.
“We are very proud to have been chosen to lead this important and very innovative project,” said Steve. “If our unique technology can make travelers safer in their lives and reduce the threat of terrorism, that would be a wonderful legacy. We hope that our work can ultimately benefit millions of people.
While the underlying chips are out of the box, Cambridge Sensoriis brings specialist expertise to the system.
“There are two things we do: design the antennas and process the data to get the coverage and update rates you need,” Steve explained.
“The underlying capabilities came from the designs we did for the Future of Flight work, but we’ve extended and adjusted them. For concealed threat detection, you look under clothing from a maximum of 50 yards This is a different problem from working on the future of flight, where you want to detect small objects as far away as possible.
Radar also overcomes health and privacy concerns.
It can track individuals as they move, and its signals easily pass through layers of clothing to detect hidden objects, but harmlessly reflect off the body and pick up no intimate imagery.
“Radar is a very small, low-powered device – less powerful than a telephone, although it operates on a different frequency,” Steve explained,
“The underlying radar technology is widely used in the automotive industry for automatic emergency braking on cars – longer range in this case and with more power.
“While some systems are designed to image the body and privacy of body shape is a concern, especially in some countries, this system does not.
“It looks at the way the radar signal bounces off a person and bounces back and interprets that – it’s not creating an image.”
Steve, left the Australia Center for Field Robotics in 1999 after completing his PhD, then co-founded Navtech Radar in Oxfordshire, which focuses on security solutions, before retiring in 2017.
“We’ve created ground-based radar to detect intruders at airports, automate industrial machinery like bulk loaders at docks for people like Rio Tinto, and we’ve designed the Radar Stopped Vehicle Detection system for highways. smart cars in the UK, for what used to be the Highways Agency, now Trunk Roads. I saw them installed on the M25 in the Hindhead Tunnel and places like that,” Steve recalls,
After a stint as CTO elsewhere, Steve launched Cambridge Sensoriis in the middle of lockdown in May 2020 and the team is now made up of four people.
“Radars can be much smaller, lighter and less powerful now, so I saw an opportunity to deploy them on drones, which was an area I hadn’t worked on before,” he said. he said, adding that the achievements to date are down to “recruiting the best people and collaborating with others in the Cambridge area”.
He added: “We have worked with people from Cambridge Wireless and we are working with universities to design and test the antenna array for these radars.
“We had test programs at the NPL in London, and I worked in radar for 25 years. I can’t do it all, but I know what we need to bring together to create a world-class team to design these radar systems.
Although the system works with standard networks, the new high-speed 5G connectivity could also be used to analyze system data, enabling rapid identification of threats.
Research from Insight Partners suggests that the global security screening market will grow from $9.4 billion in 2021 to $13.6 billion by 2027.
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